India’s nuclear strategy now focusses on China than Pakistan, says American nuclear experts

Washington : As India continues to modernise its nuclear arsenal, with at least four new weapon systems now under development to complement or replace existing nuclear-capable aircraft, its nuclear strategy has appeared to shift with an increased emphasis on China which was traditionally focussed on Pakistan.

American nuclear experts Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris write in “Indian nuclear forces 2017” that the force requirements India needs in order to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may allow it to pursue more aggressive strategies – such as escalation dominance or a ‘splendid first strike’ – against Pakistan.

The article says that India is estimated to have produced enough plutonium for 150-200 nuclear warheads, but has likely produced only 120-130. Nonetheless, additional plutonium will be required to produce warheads for missiles now under development, and India is reportedly building two new plutonium production facilities.

They estimated that India currently operates seven nuclear-capable systems: two aircraft, four land-based ballistic missiles, and one sea-based ballistic missile adding that at least four more systems are in development.

With a diverse arsenal of land- and sea-based ballistic missiles, aircraft bombers continue to serve a prominent role as a flexible strike force in India’s nuclear posture.

“We estimate that three or four squadrons of Mirage 2000H and Jaguar IS/IB (and possibly also MiG-27) aircraft, at three bases, are assigned nuclear strike missions against Pakistan and China,” said the authors.

Also, India is now probably searching for a modern fighter-bomber that could potentially take over the air-based nuclear strike role in the future. With this effect, India and France last signed an agreement for delivery of 36 Rafale aircraft.

The Rafale is used for the nuclear mission in the French Air Force and India could potentially convert it to serve a similar role in the Indian Air Force.

India also has four types of land-based nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that appear to be operational: the short-range Prithvi-2 and Agni-1, the medium-range Agni-2, and the intermediate-range Agni-3. At least two other longer-range Agni missiles are under development: the Agni-4 and Agni-5.

It also operates a ship-launched nuclear-capable ballistic missile and is developing two submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

The ship-based ballistic missile is the Dhanush, a 400-kilometer (249-mile) single-stage, liquid-fuel, short-range ballistic missile designed to launch from the back of two specially configured Sukanya-class patrol vessels (Subhadra and Suvarna); each ship can carry two missiles. However, the utility of the Dhanush as a strategic deterrence weapon is severely limited by its relatively short range; the ships carrying it would have to sail dangerously close to the Pakistani or Chinese coasts to target facilities in those countries, making them vulnerable to counterattack.

Meanwhile, India’s first indigenous nuclear-powered SSBN, the Arihant, is still undergoing sea trials. The Arihant is equipped with 12 launch tubes designed to launch the K-15 (Sagarika) SLBM, whose range is 700 kilometers (435 miles). (ANI)